10 Top Picks of 2021, The Best Cars of the Year includes Mazda CX-30
Photo: Mazda

Each year more than 250 models compete for the hearts, minds, and driveways of American car shoppers. At Consumer Reports, we rank the new models we buy and evaluate based on regimented performance tests and survey results from our members. Here, we highlight the best of the best in our annual Top Picks, standouts in popular price categories and types.

These 10 models have earned their way onto our list through outstanding performance in more than 50 tests at CR’s Auto Test Center, as well as having solid marks for reliability and owner satisfaction in our member surveys. All have also scored well in dynamic safety tests, such as our challenging accident avoidance maneuver, and, if tested, earned passing grades in crash assessments conducted by the federal government and the insurance industry.


See the vehicles that made Consumer Reports’ annual Top Picks list in 2020201920182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

2021 AUTOS SPOTLIGHT

“We put thousands of miles on each test car and evaluate them for how people actually use them,” says Jake Fisher, head of auto testing at Consumer Reports. “That means we care more about how your next car or SUV performs when it comes to safety, comfort, and fuel efficiency than how quickly it can circle a race track.”

Each Top Pick has an Overall Score that’s among the highest in its category. And it must come standard with forward collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection—proven features that prevent injuries and save lives by reducing collisions.

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Under $25,000

Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Toyota Corolla

Small Car: Toyota Corolla

You might think that buying a budget-priced car means compromising on performance and comfort. But some inexpensive rides punch above their weight year after year when it comes to value. Case in point: the tried-and-true Corolla, which delivers terrific fuel economy, has more standard safety features than some cars at twice the price, and earns top marks for predicted reliability. The core model is a sedan, powered by a thrifty four-cylinder engine that delivers 33 mpg overall and 45 mpg on the highway. There’s also an impressive hybrid version—a Green Choice—that earns 48 mpg overall and 59 mpg on the highway. Even with its extreme efficiency, this Corolla is enjoyable to drive. The steering is well-weighted, there’s limited lean when tackling corners, and the ride is among the best in the class. Want something spicier? Choose the sportier XSE trim or the nimble hatchback.

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2021 Toyota Corolla

Price Range: $20,025 - $28,310

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Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Mazda CX-30

Subcompact SUV: Mazda CX-30
The small, urban-friendly CX-30 has a more spirited driving feel than its main rivals, with responsive handling and a firm ride. And it out-accelerates most competitors, even with the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder, although that thrust creates some engine noise. In a class filled with joyless continuously variable transmissions, the car’s conventional six-speed automatic delivers the satisfaction of traditional shifts. A new turbo engine adds even more oomph to this mighty mite. Its main superpower is the winning combination of key standard safety equipment and much-better-than-average predicted reliability.

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2021 Mazda CX-30

Price Range: $22,050 - $34,050

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$25,000-$35,000

Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Toyota Prius

Hybrid: Toyota Prius

For over two decades, the Prius hybrid has set the standard for fuel-efficient cars. There are more competitors than ever now as other automakers race to catch up, but none of them offer a high-efficiency model with such a balanced overall package. Sure, some might chase the 52 mpg overall, but no rival can also replicate the Prius’ top marks for reliability and owner satisfaction. Ultimately, that’s the highest praise. It speaks volumes that such a mechanically complex car can deliver rock-solid reliability and thrill owners year after year. Recent innovations include an AWD option and the Prius Prime, a nicely outfitted plug-in version that gives 25 miles of electric-only range. If you want to spend less time at the pump and the repair shop, this is the car to buy.

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2021 Toyota Prius

Price Range: $24,525 - $32,650

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Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Toyota Camry

Midsized Sedan: Toyota Camry

The Camry fends off would-be challengers with its mix of efficiency, performance, and reliability. This solid choice is newly available with all-wheel drive. Looking for extremely reliable family transport on a budget? The base Camry comes with a litany of key safety and driver assistance features. Its four-cylinder engine is energetic and frugal, delivering 32 mpg overall. For a sportier experience, the SE and XSE bring a more expressive exterior, tauter suspension, and a more athletic character. Want to burn even less fuel? The hybrid gets a stunning 47 mpg overall and has quick acceleration.

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2021 Toyota Camry

Price Range: $24,970 - $35,545

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Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Subaru Forester

Small SUV: Subaru Forester

The Forester has been a Top Pick for eight straight years. Clearly, Subaru knows what it’s doing with small SUVs, and it hasn’t deviated much from that winning formula over time. The Forester stands out by being so easy to live with. The tall roofline creates a spacious interior that seems to defy the exterior dimensions. And the large doors make for easy access into and out of the vehicle. These facets combine to create the best outward visibility of any vehicle beyond a bicycle, making it easy to view the road around you. This adds an airy feeling, and it can help with parking. Fuel economy is impressive, especially for an SUV that isn’t a diesel or hybrid. And every Forester comes with a standard all-wheel-drive system and a generous roster of active safety features.

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2021 Subaru Forester

Price Range: $24,795 - $34,895

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$35,000-$45,000

Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Subaru Outback

SUV/Wagon: Subaru Outback

Is it a wagon or an SUV? Who cares? The Outback deftly balances carlike driving manners and efficiency with SUV-like functionality. It’s a do-it-all vehicle with broad appeal and hiking-boot styling. It has a comfortable interior, generous passenger space, a roomy cargo section, and clever rails in the roof rack that swing across when needed and stow neatly to the side to become more aerodynamic when not. The Outback has a ride that outshines some luxury models in the way it swallows bumps. All models have ample ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, making them ready for light off-pavement adventures. The XT adds effortless acceleration for an extra kick in the keister. Whatever you call it, the Outback is simply a smart choice.

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2021 Subaru Outback

Price Range: $26,795 - $39,945

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Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Kia Telluride

Midsized Three-Row SUV: Kia Telluride

Last year the Telluride became the new benchmark for three-row SUVs, thanks to its thoughtful, no-compromise design. Now in its second year on the Top Picks list, it still dominates this popular segment with a stellar road test and Overall Score. And surveys show that owners love it. This isn’t a model that thrives on flash. Instead, it stands out by being highly competent in almost every way. The large, upright design gives it easy access and broad visibility. The cabin is spacious, and the controls are simple. The seats are comfortable in each row, with the front and second row being especially accommodating. The powertrain teams a V6 with a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission to create effortless power, which contributes to a quiet interior on a par with an ultraluxury model. Plus, the ride is supple and handling is secure. The Telluride delivers a lot of SUV for the money.

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2021 Kia Telluride

Price Range: $32,190 - $44,390

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Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Honda Ridgeline

Compact Pickup Truck: Honda Ridgeline

Many pickup trucks are proud, hulking brutes. But these commercial-grade monsters are overkill for many suburbanites and weekend warriors. That’s where the genius of the Ridgeline comes in. This highly innovative, newly updated truck can haul dirt bikes and tow a small trailer but was designed to excel in the daily commute, with room for family and a clever lined bed that practically does magic tricks. Swing open or fold down the tailgate and you can access a lockable underbed storage box that can double as a cooler. Some versions offer a unique built-in bed sound system for tailgating. The 3.5-liter V6 is a slick and powerful engine. At 20 mpg overall in our tests, the Ridgeline is also the most fuel-efficient truck that’s not diesel- or hybrid-powered. And the ride is comfortable and composed.

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2021 Honda Ridgeline

Price Range: $36,490 - $43,920

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$45,000-$55,000

Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Lexus RX

Midsized SUV: Lexus RX

The RX continues to set the standard for the midsized luxury SUV segment, serving up a combination of comfort, performance, safety, and reliability that can’t be beat. Everything about the RX is smooth and luxurious, from the plush ride to the hushed cabin and wide, supple seats. The base engine is a silky V6 that packs power, but the real treat is the hybrid. It feels quicker, with more immediate response from the electric motors, and it delivers an impressive 29 mpg overall. For those who crave a bit more élan, there’s an F Sport variant with more supportive seats and some added flair. Lexus continues to make upgrades to the RX, even though this generation has been on sale for a few years. The addition of blind spot warning and rear cross traffic warning as standard equipment makes it even more desirable. For those who need three rows, there’s a slightly longer L version with a small third-row seat.

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2021 Lexus RX

Price Range: $45,170 - $57,210

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Consumer  Reports Top Picks of 2021 includes the Tesla Model 3

Electric Car: Tesla Model 3

The Model 3 delivers an otherworldly driving experience, with punchy acceleration that comes on in a quiet surge. (In our tests, it reached 60 mph in 5.3 seconds—quicker than a Dodge Challenger V8.) This uncanny performance is matched with sharp handling and precise steering befitting a sports sedan. The minimalist interior has a futuristic design aesthetic, with a massive 15-inch touch screen that’s used for most controls, but the screen is distracting to use. Innovation abounds, from the car’s keyless access to Tesla’s ability to send over-the-air updates that continue to add features well after the car is bought. Another notable Tesla advantage is being able to charge relatively quickly on the go. Being green has never been so much fun.

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2021 Tesla Model 3

Price Range: $37,990 - $54,990

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Green Choice
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Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the April 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. For more information, see our 2021  Autos Spotlight page.